10 Surprising Facts About Serendipity


After making its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Serendipity—Peter Chelsom's holiday-themed rom-com—made its way into theaters on October 5, 2001 and became a turning point in the director's career. After a series of box office bombs like Town & Country, Serendipity became the first of Chelsom's films to turn a profit, and several more hits followed.

In the case of Serendipity, which plays out a bit like Sleepless in Seattle or Before Sunrise, John Cusack (Jonathan) and Beckinsale (Sara) play a pair of star-crossed lovers who meet in New York City one day during the holiday season then spend the next few years finding their way back to each other through a series of fateful events. In the nearly 20 years since the film's initial release, it's become a holiday staple for many rom-com fans. Here are 10 things you might not have known about Serendipity.

1. Sara, Kate Beckinsale’s character, might not totally understand the definition of serendipity.

Over Frrrozen Hot Chocolates at Serendipity 3, the restaurant for which the movie is partially named, Kate Beckinsale's Sara tells Jonathan how she came across the restaurant: “[Serendipity] is one of my favorite words,” she says. “It’s just such a nice sound for what it means: a fortunate accident. Except I don’t really believe in accidents. I think fate’s behind everything.” However, Merriam-Webster sees it a little differently; the dictionary defines serendipity as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”

2. Serendipity 3 was a popular restaurant long before the movie.

Serendipity the movie has a strong association with the New York City restaurant of the same name. In the film, Sara and Jonathan drink the restaurant's famous Frrrozen Hot Chocolate while discussing fate. After the release of the film, the restaurant saw an increase in visitors—you can even request to sit at the Star Table where Cusack and Beckinsale sat—but Serendipity 3 has been a cultural instruction since it opened in 1954. Everyone from Andy Warhol to Salvador Dalí has dined there (Warhol even has a table dedicated to him). Two other films shot at the restaurant: 1996’s One Fine Day and 2006’s Trust the Man.

3. Sara was originally supposed to be American.

John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale in Serendipity (2001)

London-born Beckinsale told The Telegraph she auditioned for the part with an American accent. “It started out that Sara was American when I first met Peter [Chelsom],” she said. (Chelsom is also British.) “I auditioned in American, and he said, ‘Now we can try it in an English accent?,’ and I was terribly offended! I think he decided it would be a hoot to have an English girl.”

4. The Twin Towers were digitally removed from Serendipity.

The movie, which contained shots of the Twin Towers, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival just two days after the 9/11 attacks. The Chicago Tribune reported the images “caught some audience members off guard,” so the studio had them taken out. A similar thing happened in Zoolander and in the Spider-Man trailers.

“I don’t think [the audience] wanted to see those images anymore,” Cusack told The Telegraph about their removal. “They just wanted to feel something else. People seemed to be really liking the fact that they could view the city in a different way.”

5. John Cusack didn’t want to promote the film in New York City.

Co-stars Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack at the after-party for the New York film premiere of Miramax's "Serendipity" at The Boathouse in Central Park, New York City
Evan Agostini/ImageDirect via Getty Images

Because of 9/11, Cusack didn’t feel comfortable promoting the film, especially in New York City. “I didn't want to do any talk shows or anything,” Cusack told The Telegraph. Ultimately, he realized that it was something the citizens of New York really wanted—and needed. "They wanted everyone to come back and the shows to come back and the movies to come back and wanted New York to be magic, to be visibly New York,” Cusack said.

6. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale had only met once before filming Serendipity.

Though Cusack and Beckinsale are the couple at the center of the film, they only have a few scenes together—in the beginning and in the end. When Cusack was filming High Fidelity, Beckinsale met him for a couple of hours during an audition. “I was more pregnant than you can be: I was three days overdue,” she said. “But I told them I was pregnant, and I had these giant boobs and blonde hair, and then suddenly I didn’t anymore. I think that was what Peter [Chelsom] actually liked.” Fortunately for all involved, Beckinsale and Cusack had automatic chemistry. “You can't really control that," Beckinsale said. "It was just one of those happy things that happened."

"I met Kate once before, but sometimes you meet people and feel like you've known them for ages," Cusack told the BBC. "That's what actors have to do. It's great, it's like an affair without the mess!"

7. Kate Beckinsale believes in fate—sometimes.

John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale in Serendipity (2001)
Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack star in Serendipity (2001).

Beckinsale explained to Bustle that, depending on the day, she may or may not believe in fate like Sara did. “I have those days when I really do and then I can have days where I really don’t," she said. "I think it really depends on what’s going on. I don't know if it’s realistic to be [a hopeless romantic], but I think we all have the streak.”

8. Kate Beckinsale said men like Serendipity more than her action films.

In 2016 Beckinsale told Bustle how it’s her male fans who most often gush to her about Serendipity. “What’s funny about that movie is that if people come up to me in the street or at the store and say, ‘My favorite movie is ...,’ and they say Serendipity, nine times out of 10, it’s a man,” she said. “I find [it] really amazing considering I’ve done so many movies considered a 'guy' movie ... All the machine guns I’ve fired, the boys like Serendipity better!”

9. Kate Beckinsale once spontaneously re-created Serendipity's elevator scene.

While staying at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto during the 2018 Toronto Film Festival, Beckinsale realized she was in the same elevator as in Serendipity. In the scene, Sara and Jonathan are in elevators at the Waldorf Astoria (but it was filmed at Fairmont) and try to see if they’ll pick the same floor. If they do, then they’re fated to be together. Upon realizing the happy accident, she coerced the hotel’s porter to play along and she sort of reenacted the scene.

In 2019, Beckinsale told Jimmy Fallon the story. “I found myself in the elevator going, ‘Wait a second. I’ve been in this elevator before. This elevator's very familiar,'" she said. “Which never happens. I’m not constantly saying that in elevators.” She also said the scene itself was unrealistic. “Which is such a load of sh**. I can’t even imagine. What a terrible idea, really.”

10. A Serendipity TV show is in the works.

In August 2019, it was announced that a TV adaptation of Serendipity is being developed for NBC. The show’s premise follows Harry and Claire, not Jonathan and Sara. The couple falls in love (naturally), but “are separated by circumstance and then spend years trying to find one another again ... with a little help from the universe.”

Serendipity superfan Jonny Umansky will write and executive produce. “I’ve been madly in love with this movie for more than half my life,” Umansky told Variety. “Never has the world needed a show like Serendipity more, and the love stories we have in store are big, bold and filled to the brim with whimsy and wonder.”

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

On July 20, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. 

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

Dummy in Tesla roadster in space with Earth in background.
SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.